Bill and Shawn share their inspiring stories of survival and gratitude.
On World Restart a Heart Day in 2015, Katrysha collapsed in her office. She was experiencing a lethal arrhythmia, and her heart suddenly stopped beating properly. Listen to Katrysha share how her remarkable colleagues and a team of nearby responders saved her life with CPR and an AED. Since then, Katrysha has founded Living Proof CPR, where she teaches people the essential skills that saved her life. She discusses her experience, the chain of survival, and the importance of recognizing what cardiac arrest looks like.
Katrysha's Sudden Cardiac Arrest Story
Katrysha Gellis: Those people are very special to me. The one thing that I decided, one thing that I thought I could do to thank them is really to pay it forward. And so that’s why I became trained as a CPR instructor. And that’s why I advocate now for CPR awareness and AED awareness. Really to pay it forward. If what I do, by sharing my story and by encouraging people to know how important it is to be prepared to help somebody in sudden cardiac arrest, if that can save just one person, like my life was saved, then that will be a way to thank them.
Avive: The best teachers are those who have a real world experience, the ones who have lived it, there’s just a spark there, a passion. And there’s instant credibility with someone who has been there. Battle-scarred business instructors and wounded shop teachers can teach us what not to do, which is just as important as what to do. It takes learning to the next level.
Katrysha Gellis: I’m Katrysha Gellis. I am a CPR instructor and an advocate for CPR and AED awareness. I’m passionate about this cause because I do have a personal connection to it. When I was 30 years old, I suffered a sudden cardiac arrest. And so my heart stopped beating and collapsed. And because of the actions of my colleagues who were with me, they were able to save my life.
It was October 16th, 2015, which happens to be World Restart a Heart Day, which is interesting. So it happened on that day. In 2015, I was eating lunch with my two amazing colleagues who told me later the story because I don’t remember this. They said that one moment I was eating lunch and I was fine. And then the next moment I said, I don’t feel great. And I put my head down and very quickly I collapsed onto the floor and I stopped breathing and it was unconscious. And that was me having a sudden cardiac arrest. They did everything right. They did everything you’re supposed to do as a bystander. And they called 911. They were beside me doing chest compressions and keeping the blood flowing around my body and into my brain. We were a very close, small little team and they’re out there like family to me. They really worked together.
Avive: With everything that Katrysha now knows about sudden cardiac arrest, she says she realizes how important timing is and how lucky she was to have first responders in close proximity.
Katrysha Gellis: There was actually no AED on site. If anything had been different, might not have survived. My 911 call went out and it was received by a team of first responders who were around the corner from my office, finishing a call. I did connect with them at a point later. And they told me that when they got back into their truck, the call for me came in within 15 seconds. If anything had been different in timing, that call might’ve gone to another team of first responders who were farther away, but they were literally around the corner. So they were there with the defibrillator very, very quickly. And because of that timeliness, they were able to attach it to my body. It analyzed my heart rhythm. It recognized that I was in sudden cardiac arrest and I needed that lifesaving shock. The AED shocked me twice, allowed my heart to restart normally, and saved my life. So the actions of those colleagues along with the first responders really is the thing that saved me.
Avive: Katrysha says that she cannot stress enough, the importance of early CPR and defibrillation and talks about a Chain of Survival.
Katrysha Gellis: As an instructor for CPR we talk about something called the Chain of Survival, which has some important links that will determine how likely it is for the person to survive. The first link is recognizing sudden cardiac arrest and calling 911. And the second link is doing CPR. So pumping the blood around the body to keep the person’s organs and brain alive. And the third link is using the AED if one is available. So that’s where an automated external defibrillator comes in and is so important. And we know because of the research that we really need access to an AED when someone has a cardiac arrest within at least the first four minutes. Early defibrillation is really gonna make the difference for them. And the AED is that life-saving device that can, I think it’s double or triple the person’s chance of survival based on the statistics that I know.
And then the next link is paramedics or first responders arriving to take over and then bringing that person to the hospital, where the fifth link would be a doctor actually assessing what’s happening and treating them. But if the bystanders who are there when the cardiac arrest happens, if they just call 911, and then they wait and do nothing, they don’t do CPR, and they don’t use an AED, that victim has a very small chance of surviving because those links are broken.
Avive: Katrysha wants people to know that anyone can use an AED and stresses how important it is to have a fully functioning AED at the ready.
Katrysha Gellis: AEDs, people still think that they’re there for trained responders only, and that is not true. They’re automated external defibrillators. They’re not the ones that doctors use in a hospital, which have to be used by a professional that knows what they’re doing. These are automated. So as a bystander using an automated external defibrillator, you could not hurt somebody with it. You’re not going to make it worse by putting a defibrillator on them because the defibrillator will read the person’s heart rhythm, and it will advise if a shock is needed. Somebody told me once that the only way you can hurt someone with an AED is if you hit them on the head with it. So I would just like to say to people, don’t be afraid to do CPR and don’t think that you can’t do it just because your certification has expired or you don’t have one.
And don’t think that you’re not allowed to use an AED. You absolutely are. Anybody is. I think too, that it’s really important that anybody listening out there, first of all, if you don’t have any AED, get one. Get one for your cottage, for your car, for your home. You need to have an AED there, any place there’s people there should be an AED.
The thing that I just want to shout from the rooftops is that AED should never, ever, ever be locked up. By which I mean that they should always be accessible to anybody who needs it. They should always be available, which means that the battery always needs to be replaced according to the manufacturer’s recommendations and the pads need to be replaced according to the recommendations too. There is no point in having an AED, if first of all, the pads and batteries aren’t working, because it’s kind of like having a car with no gas, you can’t drive anywhere.
And there’s no point in having an AED if it’s locked up because it’s like having your car in the garage and losing the garage opener. If you have an AED locked up, I would say, go unlock it right now and put it somewhere where people can use it.
If you own a business and you have office space, it’s essential. If you have a company and you have a building, you have a place where people are every day – you should definitely be protecting them with an AED. It’s just like any other kind of insurance, nobody wants to use it. But if you don’t have an AED, you’re going to be sorry.
Avive: There are two important things that Katrysha tries to get across to her students concerning CPR. One, you will most likely do CPR on someone you know, and two, responders need to care for themselves to recover.
Katrysha Gellis: We practice CPR on these inanimate dummies that don’t really look like anybody we know or care about. But based on the statistics that I know, 80% of cardiac arrests happen to somebody at home or at work. So pretty much if a cardiac arrest is going to happen, it’s going to be somebody that you know. So when you are doing CPR, you have to really be prepared and aware of what the situation might be like. It is important for people to think about that.
Also, CPR is hard, so the other thing I like to tell my students is that, if you do have to do CPR, you have to treat yourself like someone who is a patient too, because you’ve just gone through an experience that nobody really does normally. There’s a lot of things that happened during that time that you don’t understand. So it’s important that, if you do have to do CPR, afterward you reach out to somebody. The Bystander Network is an organization that I think is incredible because they provide education to people about the things they might’ve experienced. Like if they heard a cracking noise or if the person was foaming or if they were moving or whatever they might think about it. And so I just like to share with people in my classes that, you know, number one, this is somebody you’re going to care about. And probably, and number two is afterward, you have to really take care of yourself and make sure that you’re not just sitting alone with those feelings. You’re, you’re talking about them, and you’re dealing with them.
Avive: It is important to know how sudden cardiac arrest presents itself, which is much different than a CPR mannequin on the floor.
Katrysha Gellis: We talk about the first link in the chain of survival, recognizing a sudden cardiac arrest. So what does that actually look like? Again, it’s not going to just be a dummy lying on the floor. It’s going to be a real-life human being. And when they have a sudden cardiac arrest, what’s happening is their heart has stopped beating normally. So it is no longer pumping blood. The person will lose consciousness suddenly, and they will not be breathing normally because you can’t be breathing if your heart’s not pumping. So pretty much, those are the two things you need to look for. It doesn’t matter if you know, really why the person into setting cardiac arrest the thing that you only think you can do, it doesn’t change. So whether that person has, has drowned or whether they were choking or whether they had, you know, a dangerous arrhythmia, like I did, whatever. The reason that they’re unconscious and not breathing, the only thing you can do for them is to call 911, start CPR and go get a defibrillator and attach it to them, turn it on, and listen to what it says.
Because if that person’s heart is in that dangerous heart rhythm, the AED will shock them, and it will help their heart restart normally. But if you do nothing, that person doesn’t really have a chance of surviving. They’re also not going to just be lying there still like a dummy, their body is dying. So they’ll look like their body is dying. They may be doing things you’ve never seen before. So they may be moving their arms, like in a strange way. They may be having sudden jerky movements, they might be making a weird snoring-like sound, or they might even sound like they’re making like big gasping, but it’s called agonal breathing. So it’s not normal breathing. They might lose their bladder control. And people can be afraid to jump in and help because they’ve never seen that before. And they don’t really connect that. Well, that’s a sudden cardiac arrest. So I think like if I had one point I wanted to drive home is you have to recognize what a sudden cardiac arrest looks like.
You know, anyone can do CPR and use an AED. And I really think everyone should know how because it will save a life. It’s not a matter of if the cardiac arrest will happen. It’s when it will happen. And if you’re around somebody that has one, it’s incredible that you can make such a big difference from somebody just by knowing those skills.
And I think it’s important to remember CPR can’t hurt someone. It can only help them because if you have to do CPR, the person is dying. So it is really their last chance to do something, even if it’s not perfect, is much better than doing nothing. So I would leave you with that and always happy to share my story to encourage people to empower themselves with this important knowledge because they could, you could save a life one day, just like mine was saved.
How to Save A Life from Sudden Cardiac Arrest
You can save a life from Sudden Cardiac Arrest by immediately doing three simple things: call 911, perform Hands-Only CPR, and use an AED. We have created a guide that teaches you how to CALL-PUSH-SHOCK and save a life, take a look!